Throughout history, art and religion have moved parallel to each other. What we refer to as fine art today, was, at one time, the only form of media available to illustrate tales from sacred scriptures. Though paintings displaying scenes from Christianity dominate the field of ‘Religious Art’, every faith has incorporated the idea of using visuals; be it through representational, abstract, geometrical or even calligraphic imagery.
Recetly, Karachi’s Chawkandi Art Gallery held a thought-provoking exhibition titled Reliquary. Curator, Sheherbano Hussain called on a diverse range of well-known, mid-career and emerging artists to explore the concept of reliquaries, which are containers or shrines holding relics of martyrs and saints, in the form of clothing, bones or objects associated with religious figures. These are sacred spaces, often believed to have powers of granting prayers and healing and hold a strong place within different faiths. The artists were given free reign with choice of medium and content which dared many to step out of their comfort zones.
Through an array of works, the dozen artists taking part in the exhibition displayed their own perceptions of the term ‘reliquary.’ Noorjehan Bilgrami, a celebrated textile designer and artist, created a three-dimensional piece, titled ‘Tahey Nir.’ The piece appeared as an ode to the dye indigo, which has been a strong constant of Bilgrami’s practice for several years. Indigo is a valuable dye which was once found growing naturally along the River Indus. As a result of her in-depth research, Bilgrami’s discovery of the indigo dye led her across Asia, thereby making her a vital source of information on the subject. The artist constructed miniature shelves that held various handmade cloths and other natural items — all dyed in the sublime hue of indigo — and together presented the viewer with a visual journey of the dye. The delicacy of the piece speaks of her craftsmanship and prowess as both textile designer and artist.
Aylia Adil’s work ‘Cage of Desire’ is also among the sculptural pieces of the exhibition. The metallic box was surrounded by an intricate assemblage of steel bars, running both vertically and horizontally along all sides of the cube. Within the structure hung large gold-plated locks, under which was placed a large mirror that displayed a reflection of the piece and therefore, made it appear to have more bars within it. The artist describes the work as a reflection of humans. Similarly, as the box appears as a sacred container because of its shiny and protective exterior, the reflections from the mirror within the sculpture become a likeness of the people that would supposedly pray to it.
A dozen artists come together in a show to interpret the concept of relics
The triptych painting of Moeen Faruqi on foldable panels comes in direct reference to the three-panel paintings made famous in Christian mythology, which were used to depict important scenes from the Bible. Faruqi’s work adopts a familiar essence of storytelling while incorporating his iconic style.
Abdul Jabbar Gul brings forth his signature winged creatures within his intricate gold sculptures of brass. Layered with interpretations of freedom and spirituality, the works also shift in visuals when viewed from different angles.
Sheherbano Hussain’s selection of artists and curation of the artworks is commendable. The exhibition looks beyond the religious connotation of reliquaries while still keeping the ideas of spirituality, shown through the eyes of a group of exhilarating artists.
“Reliquary” was exhibited at Chawkandi Art Gallery in Karachi from February 27 to March 7, 2020
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 22nd, 2020